Scrambling Tips: Your First Steps Towards Mountain Climbing

Perhaps the most commonly groaned about portion of many a good hike, and certainly the difference between a beginner and a higher difficulty hike, is scrambling. While also the term for making one’s way up rough, rocky terrain with hands as well as feet, scramble is often colloquially used by hikers to describe the rocky and uneven terrain itself.

Sometimes referred to in guidebooks as alpine scrambling, this activity is a sort of middle ground between hiking and mountain climbing. Scrambling, however, does not require any special mountain climbing gear for hikers and is a great way to experience some of the mountains’ harder to reach views while trying out some very basic rock climbing.

While scrambling can seem intimidating for people that don’t hike much or are just getting into it, there is nothing to say that it can’t be fun and approachable for everyone. Like anything else, scrambling is all about awareness and technique. Though not a comprehensive guide, this article will attempt to give readers a good set of basic tips to get them started on their path to becoming hiking aficionados.

  1.  Start out Early!

While not quite a tip for dealing with scramble itself, it is always best to start a day hike as early in the day as possible. Sleeping in and starting a 4-6 hour long day hike in the afternoon may seem like a great plan, but cutting the end of your hike too close to sunset just isn’t safe. Especially since scrambling often occurs above the treeline and later into the hike, you’ll want the full light of day to keep your balance coming down the mountain.

  1. Avoid Loose Rock

Hiking isn’t about racing to the top of the trail. It is important to be able to recognise loose rock when you’re scrambling, as maintaining your balance will ultimately keep you safe. By pulling down, as opposed to out on a rock one can usually feel whether it is loose. You can also tap on the rock to test for hollow sounds which indicate looseness.  It is difficult to tell just by looking and it’s important to check each hand and foothold before relying on them to support you.

  1. Come Prepared

Unfortunately, there’s no great way to simply pop back to the car when you’re part way through a hike. When it comes to packing properly for any hike, how and what you pack are just as important. Without overloading yourself, it is important to have enough food and water (2 litres per person for an average day hike) as well as clothing appropriate for inclement mountain weather. The important thing to remember when packing your bag, especially for scrambling, is to make sure that all heavy things are at the bottom of the pack and close to your back. This ensures a low centre of gravity and helps to steady your balance.

  1. Accidents Happen

Scrambling is dangerous. Each year emergency services deal with all sorts of injuries and fatalities occurring on hiking trails in the Rockies. Keeping yourself safe is a matter of staying smart and keeping informed. Checking each trail for warnings and conditions before heading out and avoiding scrambling above or beneath other parties of hikers are just a few of the basic guidelines for staying safe while scrambling. Making sure to bring both a first aid kit and a method of basic navigation will also help to prevent accidents and emergencies.

  1. Know Your Limits

No one starts off a pro at everything. When it comes to trying new activities in remote locations it is even more important than usual to keep your limits in mind. While we all enjoy a great workout, overworking yourself is how we can lose our attention to detail and accidents happen. The beautiful views of the Rockies are well worth pushing yourself but there is an important fine line between feeling a little spaghetti legged tomorrow and having to call for an airlift out of a trail.

All this in mind, there are some great beginner scrambles to be found for those interested in giving this more advanced style of hiking a go. Heart Mountain, distinguishable by it’s heart shaped summit is an 11.5 kilometre summit hike with a 915 metre elevation gain located in Kananaskis park.

Cirque peak, another trail considered to be an easy scramble, is located in Banff, and at 14 kilometres total, is said to take about 7 hours to complete. A great scramble for the summer, this trail is also known for its scenic meadows and great view of bow lake to the southwest.

These are just a few of some of the fantastic scrambling trails of all levels located within Alberta. For more information on trails and scrambling tips, fantastic resources exist all over, from classes on hiking skills such as navigation held at Calgary’s own MEC, to the ever thorough and informative When it comes to getting involved with exploring the great outdoors, Calgary is the place to be.



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